KARUMBÉ PROJECT: review & conservation of sea turtles in Uruguay
Milagros Lopez Mendilaharsu
Up until the beginning of 1999 there were no programs for the investigation and conservation of sea turtles in Uruguay. Only in very few cases were specific studies accomplished, despite the high number of sea turtles that die every year as victims of fisheries (artisan and commercial) that operate in the Río de la Plata and South Atlantic Ocean. This reality is reflected in the many numbers of dead sea turtles stranded on beaches along the coast. As far as the Karumbé Group is concerned, fisheries in Uruguay affect the different sea turtle species and their life stages in different ways. Commercial fisheries affect adults and sub-adults of D. coriacea and C. caretta, while, juveniles and sub-adults of C. mydas get tangled and are drowned in the gill nets of artisan fisheries as well as by abandoned hook-and-lines that turn out to be deadly traps. Based on these facts, the purpose of the present study is to continue the studies that began in 1999 and obtain a comprehensive understanding of the biology and status of the different sea turtles species that live in Uruguayan waters. Consequently, we expect to collect information about the frequency and distribution of the different sea turtle species in the area, their major threats and causes of mortality. Foraging areas and life stages (e.g. juveniles, sub-adults) of C. mydas population is one of the other topics proposed, so as to offer a basis for future investigation on more specific subjects which are fundamental in order to be able to protect the population of sea turtles and their habitats. Nearly all the investigation programs in the world that are working with sea turtles right now appear to be focused on the protection of nesting beaches, so there are still tremendous gaps in our knowledge on the dynamics and life cycles of the sea turtle population. The type of study proposed in this project is vital for the success of any program trying to manage or protect sea turtles, whether it is locally or internationally.